Posts Tagged ‘disaster zone’

Following the January 2011 referendum, South Sudan became the newest African state on July 9, 2011, in line with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army and the Government of Sudan which provided for a referendum to determine if the people of South Sudan want to remain in one Sudan or form their own separate country. An overwhelming majority voted to form their separate country, hence the creation of South Sudan as a separate country on July 9, 2011.

In so many ways, that was a watershed event. For one, it was the first time that the colonial boundaries of independent Africa were tampered with. It also set a precedent for all secessionists in Africa on how to go about separation. It also produced a template for micro-nationalism in many disparate African countries. This is not the time to apportion blames, but after more than 50 years of staying together, the pains of separation in Sudan can only be imagined.

But, less than one year after the event, what many visionaries have foreseen is now coming to pass. Jonglei state of South Sudan became a disaster zone where some 100,000 people have fled recent clashes between rival ethnic groups. Some 6,000 ethnic Lou Nuer fighters attacked the area around Pibor town, outnumbering the army and UN forces. Food, medicine and shelter were now badly needed there.

This is the latest round in a cycle of violence which has lasted several months – in one incident last year some 600 Lou Nuer were killed by attackers from the Murle community, the group which fled from Pibor. The clashes began as cattle raids but have spiraled out of control. There have been some reports that more than 150 people had been killed but government sources say that between 20 and 30 had died.

UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Ms Lise Grande, said that “hundreds, if not thousands” of people had started to return to Pibor. But she said the humanitarian situation was “pretty grim”. But, according to Ms Grande, besides the looting of a Medicins Sans Frontieres clinic, the town had not suffered much damage and the government was beginning to deploy 3,000 extra soldiers and 800 police officers to the area.

Mr. John Boloch of South Sudan’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission and a member of the Murle community had earlier said that people who had fled Pibor had since been hunted down and killed near River Kengen, south-east of the town. He accused local politicians of exacerbating the longstanding rivalries for their own ends and also asked why UN peacekeepers and the army were protecting government buildings in Pibor, rather than the people.

Mr. Boloch told Sudan Catholic Radio News that children and women were massacred in that area from January 2 up to 3 of 2012. There were also reports that many people may have drowned in a river as they fled the attackers. Government is trying to organize a “peace forum” where leaders from the two communities would be invited to discuss how to put an end to the cycle of violence.

Cattle vendettas are common in South Sudan, as are other clashes between rival groups. The UN says some 350,000 people were displaced because of inter-communal violence last year. This presents a major challenge to the government of the newly independent state, which also faces cross-border tensions with its northern neighbour, Sudan.

Any time there is an alliance due to a common enemy, once that enemy is no more, old conflicts resurface and new conflicts emerge. That is an iron law of history. When the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army was fighting the north, there was unity in the south due to a common goal of overcoming the north and or separating from the north. But soon after achieving that objective, South Sudan is now conscious of its heterogeneity. There are over 80 ethnic groups there with Dinka having more prominence than the rest.

Apart from diversity, South Sudan is also one of the world’s poorest regions. It hardly has any roads, railways, schools or clinics following many years of conflict, which has left it awash with weapons. However, it has enormous goodwill from the world’s major powers. It has enormous resources and huge potentials as well as great opportunities.

The government of South Sudan is already coming to terms with the fact that running a rebellion or liberation movement is not the same as running a government or a country. The task ahead requires statesmanship, patience and perseverance. There is need to carry along every segment of the society. In other words, a sense of belonging must be created for every South Sudanese.

And, at the end of the day, whatever may be the support they are getting from outside, developing their young nation lies with their people, who must accommodate each other equitably and fairly as well as live with their neighbours in common African brotherhood. In South Sudan, there is a lesson for all of us Africans.

Sitting on the edge of the bed beside his nine-year-old daughter recovering from a gunshot wounds, Mangiro recounted how he lost the rest of his family in recent tribal clashes in South Sudan’s troubled state of Jonglei.

“This child was carried by her mother, and her mother was killed”, the next day we carried the child out from under her mother,” said Mangiro, who did not give a second name.

“They were gunned down as a family. Her mother and sisters, all four of them are dead there”, he added, glancing at his surviving daughter Ngathim.

An unknown number of people — at least dozens, some fear hundreds — were killed in tribal clashes this month in Jonglei, declared a “disaster zone” by the Juba government, with the UN warning some 60,000 people had been affected by the violence and are in need of emergency aid.

In Pibor’s clinic run by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres-MSF), Ngathim was in one of the few functioning rooms after attackers looted and ransacked the town’s only concrete structure and medical facility.

The euphoria of South Sudan’s independence six months ago after decades of civil war with the north was shared by all, but violent cracks in the new state now threaten to split it wide open.

In a dramatic escalation of bitter tit-for-tat attacks, a militia army of around 8,000 Lou Nuer youths recently marched on Pibor county, attacking villages and taking children and cows away with them, to exact revenge on the Murle whom they blame for abductions and cattle raiding.

From the air, black spots pockmarking the earth show where homes and fields were razed as attackers left villages smouldering in their wake. Large herds of stolen cattle were also seen being driven towards Nuer villages.

In Gumruk, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Pibor, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) registered more than 2,000 people this week who fled attacks on surrounding villages.

“We were just sitting at home, and then we were attacked — these Nuer guys came in with their machetes and started cutting people and so we ran”, said Ismiah Shan, a mother of eight who saw villagers shot and slashed with knives, spears or machetes in Thaugnyang, two hours’ walk away.

The government has confirmed around 80 people killed in revenge attacks in Lou Nuer areas this week, but the UN and government cannot confirm the number of Murle killed in the first assault.

Some estimates by local government officials in the thousands are not yet verified, as teams asses a vast area lacking roads.

Access difficulties and a state the size of Bangladesh have been cited as the reason why UN peacekeepers and government troops failed to stop the deadly column advancing.

Others say troops were dispatched late and clearly outnumbered, or were hesitant to intervene in a tribal conflict that last year killed around 1,100 people in a series of cattle raids.

When the violence started, Philip Mama Alan fled his village of Lawol, three hours’ walk from Gumruk, but ran into more attackers.

“These people came and took some of my colleagues. One of them came and held my hand and said ‘sit down’. Before I sat down, I saw them kill my colleagues and so I ran,” he said.

Running for his life, Alan described the scene as a “slaughter”, saying the men were gunned down and women knifed.

He does not want revenge, just for the government to build roads to bring trade into the neglected state, that was one of the worst hit during the decades of civil war with the north.

In the meantime, the huddled masses sitting in glaring sun outside food distribution centres in Pibor and Gumruk were not thinking about home.

Many had been living off wild berries and said there is nothing to go back to after they saw villages destroyed. Others seemed to be taking matters into their own hands in an effort to regain their livelihood.

WFP head of security Wame Duguvesi said that in Pibor this week the body of a Nuer army officer was discovered, while the death toll from other suspected revenge attacks continues to climb in increasingly remote areas far from the security forces.

“Peaceful dialogue is the only way forward to reach a final and durable settlement to their differences”, said Kouider Zerrouk, spokesman for the UN Mission in South Sudan, who urged communities to end the extremely worrying cycle of violence.

“The reconciliatory peace process must restart immediately”, he said, after peace talks between the two tribes fell apart in early December.

Just A Few Months Old, South Sudan Already In Turmoil


People who escaped ethnic violence in Jonglei state wait for food rations at a World Food Program distribution center on Thursday. South Sudan gained independence just six months ago, and already ethnic tensions inside the new country have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

EnlargeMichael Onyiego/APPeople who escaped ethnic violence in Jonglei state wait for food rations at a World Food Program distribution center on Thursday. South Sudan gained independence just six months ago, and already ethnic tensions inside the new country have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Map Of Sudan And South Sudan

Credit: Alyson Hurt/NPR

South Sudan gained independence just six months ago, but the country is already plagued by ethnic violence at home and ongoing tensions with its previous rulers in Sudan.

Potential humanitarian crises are brewing in both Sudans, and U.S. diplomats are sounding frustrated that the two are not talking to each other enough.

U.S. officials still don’t really have a handle on the violence that exploded this month in a remote part of South Sudan. But U.S. envoy Princeton Lyman says the deadly cattle-raiding and ethnic clashes that have forced tens of thousands to flee shows that the new government’s reach is still weak.

“There are real fragile points in this society and years of neglect of their basic needs,” Lyman says. “The government is going to have to move very, very fast to get a handle on it and not let ethnic politics get in the way.”

Humanitarian groups are desperately trying to reach people in South Sudan’s troubled Jonglei state. Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam America says the violence threatens the new nation’s plans to develop its agricultural sector.

“When you see this type of displacement happening in this short period of time, where you see the challenges cattle keepers are facing … it’s really worrying,” he says. “If [agriculture] is what the government of South Sudan pins its hopes on, this will need to be addressed.”

Food aid from the U.S. is delivered Thursday as part of efforts by the World Food Program to assist people displaced by fighting in the South Sudan state of Jonglei.

EnlargeMichael Onyiego/APFood aid from the U.S. is delivered Thursday as part of efforts by the World Food Program to assist people displaced by fighting in the South Sudan state of Jonglei.

U.S. Sending Military Advisers

The White House announced recently that it is sending five military advisers to help United Nations peacekeepers, who warned of the latest violence but mainly stayed on the sidelines.

The Obama administration also cleared a legal hurdle to provide military assistance. Lyman says the goal is to help a former liberation movement that fought for independence become a real army with civilian oversight.

“Right now we are looking at help for establishing a stronger Ministry of Defense, command-and-control capability, human-rights monitoring and better overall organization,” he says. “We have no plans under way for lethal assistance to South Sudan.”

One of Lyman’s former aides, Cameron Hudson, says the U.S. needs to show more tough love with South Sudan. Hudson is now with the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and he’s worried about what former rebels now in government might do during this volatile time.

“Politically their instincts, I think, are in the right place, but when faced with really overwhelming violence, tribal violence and intercommunal violence around them, there are tendencies and temptations on the ground that make doing the right thing difficult on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “So the United States and other allied countries, I think, have a real opportunity and responsibility to keep Sudan on track.”

There is frustration, but there is frustration that both countries have failed to establish the kind of relationships, or even any of the basic institutions for dealing with their bilateral problems. There’s almost no high-level communications between the two.

– U.S. envoy Princeton Lyman on the tension between Sudan and South Sudan

The U.S. is also worried about the relationship between the two Sudans. The north accuses the south of arming rebels. Lyman can’t rule that out, though the south denies it is meddling.

“There is frustration, but there is frustration that both countries have failed to establish the kind of relationships, or even any of the basic institutions for dealing with their bilateral problems,” Lyman says. “There’s almost no high-level communications between the two.”

Humanitarian Concerns

Now there are fears of famine in those areas where Sudan has been cracking down on rebel movements.

“We’ve gone to the government, we’ve gone to countries around the world to say, ‘Look, this is a catastrophe, but a preventable one,’ ” Lyman says. He says that the U.S. has urged other countries to tell Sudan’s government that it must allow in the United Nations.

The U.N. Security Council, though, has been deadlocked on the issue, says Hudson, the former State Department official.

“What China and Russia see is a proxy war,” says Hudson. “So they are reticent to take really strong action like the U.S. government would like to see because they think there isn’t just one side involved here. Both sides are at fault.”

And there is another brewing conflict between the two Sudans that the U.S. is trying to manage. They are fighting over their shared oil wealth, and U.S. officials warn that if this isn’t resolved soon, both countries could face a serious financial crisis.

By Jamie Ingram/Doha

Escalating violence in South Sudan’s oil-producing Jonglei state vividly highlights the severe challenges facing the newly-independent country.
Six months after gaining independence, the recent clashes echo pre-independence concerns that without the unifying factor of conflict with the north, South Sudan’s volatile tribes would descend into internecine violence. While there is some truth to this notion, there is more to the situation than inherent tribal mistrust.
Thus far the Juba government has been unable to restore stability and has classified Jonglei as a disaster zone. The UN reports estimate more than 50,000 have been displaced in clashes while local commissioners claim that more than 3,000 people have been killed in the past week.
Far from being unusual, this is merely the latest, if bloodiest, violence to afflict Jonglei in recent months. Until he was killed by government forces last month, rebels loyal to General George Athor had been engaged in an insurgency against the Juba government since April 2010.
The latest clashes have prompted observers to once again raise the spectre of inter-tribal ethnic violence; a fear which has deep resonance in this part of Africa.
However, this is a somewhat simplistic take on events and blaming the violence solely on tribal differences diverts government and international attention away from issues whose resolution could ease tensions.
This is by no means the first instance of clashes between the two tribes who inhabit the swampy territory of Jonglei. Clashes between the two are often prompted by conflict over water or cattle. South Sudan is an extremely poor country despite its oil reserves and cattle represent a vital source of income, not to mention prestige, for many of its citizens.
Basic economic factors such as unemployment are, therefore, a key driving force behind South Sudan’s tribal conflicts. No simple solution exists as the economy remains overly dependent on oil revenues and the country’s limited infrastructure severely hampers the business environment, while it suffers from one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world.
The lengthy civil wars between the north and south, while ending in 2005, continues to severely impact both countries. In the south, the proliferation of small arms among the general population contributes significantly to events such as those occurring in Jonglei, greatly raising the risk of bloodshed.
It has also led to the militarisation of many South Sudanese to the extent that the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) is comprised of up to 200,000 people. Demobilisation is rightly seen as a key priority for President Salva Kiir’s government in order to reduce expenditure, even though this brings with it significant risk.
One difficulty concerns the demoralisation of the army with the incorporation of the rebels into the vacated positions. Last week Jonglei state officials announced that they were hopeful up to 1,000 rebels formerly loyal to General Athor would be reintegrated into the SPLA.
For those effectively sacked from the army, this can stir up bitter resentment and it diminishes the legitimacy of the government and the armed forces.
The government’s inability to prevent this latest violence and protect its civilian population has underscored its lack of sovereign control throughout much of the country. Through its apparent unwillingness to intervene fully in tribal violence the government risks further losing legitimacy, while such a policy sends a message to its population suggesting that rather than rely on the central state to resolve conflicts, they should act themselves which results in increasing concerns of further escalations of violence.
Fundamentally, the fragile nature of South Sudan’s society necessitates caution from the Dinka-dominated government keen to ensure it is not seen as favouring particular tribes. While understandable, the disadvantages of such a strategy are especially evident given recent events.
Such internal turmoil has wide ranging ramifications for South Sudan, diverting the government’s attention from implementing vital economic reforms to improve the business environment, hampering infrastructure development and deterring foreign investors and businesses. Such a vicious circle would further deny the government funds vital for state-building.
The unfortunate truth is that South Sudan will likely continue to experience similar outbreaks of violence between tribes as a result of the economic challenges facing the country and a proliferation of small arms. There is no quick fix for such problems; inherent structural issues such as the lack of education, employment, infrastructure and health services must be targeted and only then can the spectre of tribal violence be dismissed. Such developments cannot be implemented quickly.

*** Jamie Ingram is a Researcher at RUSI, the Royal United Services Institute, Qatar .